I propose to take Questions Nos. 221 and 222 together.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for coordinating the whole-of-Government response to Brexit. In this capacity, the Department of Health is working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to address the many challenges resulting from Brexit. This co-operation also involves the relevant State Agencies. Contingency planning at both a domestic and an EU level is focused on three areas: preparing for a no-deal scenario or so-called “disorderly Brexit”; preparing for a transition period based on the “status quo”; and preparing for the future EU-UK relationship.
While the outcome of the December European Council and the move on to Phase 2 has lessened the likelihood of a disorderly Brexit, very detailed work on a no-deal or worst-case-scenario is advancing intensively through the cross-Departmental coordination structures chaired by the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade . This work is also informed by ongoing stakeholder engagement. Separately, a new preparedness unit in the Commission is considering EU-level responses.
All this work provides a baseline scenario for the policies and sectors impacted, which can then be adapted as appropriate in light of developments in the EU-UK negotiations. In this regard, it is welcome that the direction of travel is now firmly towards achieving a “status quo” transition period. Agreement on a “status quo” transition will provide certainty to individuals and businesses while also aiming to avoid any cliff edge effects between the UK leaving the EU and a future relationship agreement coming into force. The period will provide time for businesses and citizenship to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU based on the outcome of the negotiations on the framework for the EU’s future relationship with the UK. In this respect, the expectation is that the European Council will adopt additional Guidelines at its meeting on 22-23 March 2018 on the framework for the future EU-UK relationship. These guidelines – as well as further clarity on the UK position, which has been sought by the European Council – will provide a clearer picture of the direction of travel in the negotiations.
The Department of Health and its agencies have been conducting detailed analysis on the impacts of Brexit in the area of health. A number of issues are being examined and contingency planning for a range of eventualities is under way. A key issue will be to ensure that there is minimum disruption to health services and that essential services are maintained on a cross-Border, all-island and Ireland-UK basis. The health sector has a highly mobile workforce and free movement issues and the mutual recognition and assurance of professional qualifications are being considered. On regulatory issues, it is clear that having a single set of rules across the European Union is enormously helpful – to protect human health, to ensure consumer protection and to provide a level playing field for industry. Ensuring continuity in the supply of medicines and medical devices following the UK’s departure from the EU is a priority. The issue of customs is of relevance as it relates to additional food safety controls and medicines. The implications of Brexit for networks and organisations such as the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, the European Reference Networks on rare diseases and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control are also under consideration.
These issues are currently being examined by my Department and its agencies and this work will continue over the period ahead. The key priorities for my Department are to ensure continuity in the provision of health services and to avoid, or mitigate changes to the current situation that would have a negative impact on human health. These are also key factors in considering the prioritisation of risks.
In terms of allocation of resources, the Deputy Secretary, Policy and Strategy Division, and the Assistant Secretary, R and D and Health Analytics Division are the lead officials in my Department for planning and coordination in respect of Brexit. The Department of Health participates fully in the Senior Officials Group on EU Affairs, the Interdepartmental Group on EU and Brexit and its workgroups as appropriate.
The Department established a Management Board subcommittee on Brexit in advance of the UK referendum, to examine the implications of a decision to leave the EU. The Subcommittee is chaired at senior level and made up of representatives from across the Department, as well as from the HSE, which is represented at National Director level.
Brexit raises many issues across a wide range of areas that need to be addressed. Work on each specific issue involves line Units with policy responsibility. In this way, work on Brexit-related issues is being mainstreamed throughout the Department.
Within my Department, the International and Research Policy Unit provides a co-ordinating function in relation to Brexit just as it does for other international matters and North-South cooperation. The Department has a full-time EU health attaché assigned to the Permanent Representation in Brussels, who is in regular contact with International and Research Policy Unit and other Units throughout the Department. Staffing and resources allocated to Brexit in my Department are kept under ongoing review.
Brexit has been identified as a specific priority in the HSE National Service Plan. The HSE has established a Steering Group to examine and assess the issues and risks associated with Brexit and the implications for the Executive. The group consists of representatives from across Directorates and is examining a number of priority areas. Other agencies including the HPRA are also prioritising actions on Brexit including engagement with the EMA and stakeholders in Ireland.